On Saturday night, as superstars from the NHL laid back and enjoyed casually showcasing their skills as part of the NHL All-Star weekend skills competition in Columbus, Ohio, there was a very different mentality among players in the OUA, who are entering the final lap of the regular season with only 18 periods left to determine who makes it into the playoffs.
On this wild night for hockey, the Varsity Blues hosted the York Lions in their second-last home game of the regular season. U of T was coming off a narrow 4-3 victory over the Lakehead Thunderwolves and had hopes of moving up in the standings and securing a spot in the OUA playoffs, which begin on February 11.
Since it was the last Saturday night the Blues would play at the Varsity Arena for the season, graduating members of the team were honoured during the game.
The Blues got off to a roaring start, netting three goals within the first eight minutes. The first goal came just past the four-minute mark as fourth-year forward Jeff Brown found a gap between the York defencemen and used the extra time he had in front of the net to pick a top corner spot and put his team up 1-0. Brown’s goal was his 11th of the year and added to his team-leading 26 points.
The early goal seemed to give the team a boost, as they continued to roll out the scoring with Michael Markovic netting his 13th of the season less than a minute after Brown.
After a scramble in front of the York net between Blues forwards and the Lions defence, a loose puck that squeaked past York goaltender Chris Perugini was backhanded into the net by Paul Van De Velde to put the Blues up 3-0 and give him his 14th point of the season.
The outstanding performance from U of T’s top forwards was matched by fifth-year goaltender Garrett Sheehan, who earned 39 saves on the night during his first game back from injury. Despite Sheehan’s outstanding play, York earned a late goal in the first period to deny him the shutout and scored another late in the third period.
The late surge for York was not enough to give them the equalizer and the Blues won 3-2, making their record 10-11-1 and bringing their points for the season to 21, which puts them fifth in the OUA west division.
In an interview with U of T’s varsity sports at the end of the game, Sheehan spoke about his performance.
“It’s unreal coming back from an injury,” he said. “To win like that is huge; it takes a huge load of your back after sitting out for so long.”
The Cremona, Alberta native was eager to stress the importance of the next few games for the Blues in order to earn a spot in the post-season. The team will play the first of their final five games this Tuesday against the Ryerson Rams at a rather early time for a hockey game to mark the annual Downtown Showdown School Day game—the puck drops at 11 a.m. at Varsity Arena.
The Blues will then enter an eastern road trip to end the season with games against Royal Military College, Carleton, Brock, and finally York.